Friday, 23 October 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox - Review

No matter how much one could argue that the Darjeeling Ltd was, in hindsight, an underwhelming experience Wes Anderson still ranks up there as one of the most stylish directors in American cinema at the minute. So when word broke out that he was to direct one of my favourite books from my childhood, Fantastic Mr Fox, words could not even begin to describe the excitement I had in anticipation of this glorious marriage of directorial vision and literary excellence. Combined with the inspired casting of George Clooney in the title role and Meryl Streep as his wife, along with Anderson's usual collaborators such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe and Michael Gambon (amongst others), how could it possibly go wrong?

Well the sad fact is, it did. It wasn't a train crash of 'Michael Bay proportions' but it failed to live up to the hype, and it was contributed by a number of factors. Firstly the source material was, like certain previous Dahl adaptations for the screen, butchered to the point where the essence of the original tale was lost in a convoluted mish-mash of needless new characters and the odd inexplicible sub plot and change in the core character's personality. Perhaps bringing the source material in line with Anderson's other films, Fox was changed from a retired extraordinary hunter and reduced to a struggling newspaper journalist scraping to put food on the table with a suffocating wife and an angst ridden son just crying out for his father's attention and approval (Ben Stiller in Tenenbaums anyone?).

Secondly, you almost get the impression Anderson did not realise he was suppose to be making, first and foremost, a children's film. Certainly as I have argued excessively all year when reviewing any children's films such as Coraline or Up that the makers should never talk down to children or indeed patronise them. However with Mr Fox, Anderson failed to truly connect with the core audience, pandering mainly to the needs of his fans (granted I am one of them...) who may of criticise him for his previous film. If these characters were human and in a live action setting, you would almost believe their next door neighbours would probably be The Royal Tenenbaums or Fox's best mate would really be Steve Zissou. Finally as with the failings of some the other Dahl adaptations, for a quintessentially English tale, it felt far too Americanised at times.

If I manage to forget that Fantastic Mr Fox was one of the all time greatest novels of my childhood and suspend reality for a moment, as a stand alone film I thought it was actually a lot of fun deep down, the way Anderson incorporated aspects of Dahl's own personality into the book was tastefully subtle and actually a master-stroke of genius, from Fox's office mimicking Dahl's real life den where he wrote all his wonderful works, to basing the autumnal country side on the surroundings where the writer himself came from. The animation was possibly the highlight of the whole production, and where Anderson always tends to shine in his films for me, with the wonderfully warm woodland interiors of the animals' homes to the beautifully realised English village (which looked as if it was lifted straight from the set of Postman Pat) and the cold grey Orwellian farms of the antagonists. The dialogue though perhaps too fast and witty for some kids to comprehend, was excellent, with a real sense of chemistry between the actors who took part, the stand outs being Clooney himself for once again playing...himself. I'm a real campaigner for Jason Schwartzman being in more films and on the display of this performance, only furthers my argument. My only disappointment was that there could have been a bit more Bill Murray and Willem Defoe in the mix but as is always the way.

Final Thoughts
Ladies and gentlemen presenting to you, The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson. Not the Fantastic Mr Fox by Roal Dahl. Despite the frustrating flaws its still fun, witty, oozing with class and style and should at least have the Mums and Dads smiling and laughing even if all the children are doing is marvelling at the wonderful animation.


See this if you liked...
Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (not the Burton one!), James And The Giant Peach, The Witches, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou...

Fantastic Mr Fox is in cinemas everywhere from today.

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